The artwork of Robbert Fortgens has certain characteristics that are confusing at first sight. His style is abstract, but the personal style is so recognizable we can’t confuse his artwork with someone else’s canvases.
His work appears to be modern, but slowly one gets the feeling that an archaic force is there that is something else than the ‘avant-garde’ style. Finally, the artworks also exhibit signs of conflict and struggle, while they also obviously bear the peace and balance of the monumental within itself.
Initially we don’t associate monumentality with paintings, but rather with the overwhelming and majestic mountain ranges or high rising pillars in temples and cathedrals where suddenly a bright beam of light falls down to create brightness into darkness. That last image gives us the key to this wonderful artworks and the central theme of their creator. This titanic struggle between light and darkness is present in every period of time. It is being conducted between fiery passions and the deep anxiety of the physical and forces of thinking, but also between evil and good. In the long line of human civilizations that succeed one another, flourish and pass away this conflict is decisive. It is not only fought in mythological stories, but also on the battlefields of the world and finally, all of us must see it for ourselves to come to terms. That struggle lasts a lifetime and therefore defines exactly what is human to us.
Robbert Fortgens shows us his own progress and changing insights in paintings that each form a stadium within that progress. Together they provide the viewer an image of a process that is called ‘How do I become who I want to be’. Fortgens used to paint still life’s with beautiful realistic pears and graceful female figures. However, he did notice how much the conventions of a profession, that also involves painting, can become a prison and how creating artistic content and meaning can get in the way of a clear insight. Everybody comes along crossroads in their lives and, like the demigod Herakles once did, make a moral choice that determines the rest of his life.
An old saying goes: “The craftsman gains something every day, the wise man loses something every day”. For artists this is very similar and Fortgens chose the latter. This aspect of losing, which is in fact limiting things to the essential, forms the basis for his abstract painting. Abstraction does indeed literally mean ‘removal’. Fortgens decision would carry him away from society and its ambitions of status or material gain, but it would also give him the opportunity to do what he wanted to do all his life, to paint what is inside of him. Something like that brings new perspectives and Fortgens soon discovered a series of contradictions that made old certainties disappear. Mainly the darkness in the human soul is full of monsters. In that place death, evil and blind passions of eroticism appear. On the other hand it also creates the flowing energy that drives us and enables us to great achievements. The light of unprejudiced thinking is a great thing, but it is also a risk of getting stuck in sterility and thereby become a threat like the instincts and the selfish passions. The philosopher Spinoza recognised the problem and suggested that the process of thinking itself should be a passion for us. Indeed, but a boundless, sometimes mad idea is not a true synthesis between two extremes. Moreover, the intuition that comes out of the darkness of our soul seems to make us see things sharper than the intellect of our mind. Nobody has the solution for these problems. So each of us must seek for a harmonious struggle, instead of a truce between large primal forces. Whenever one takes a look at the artwork of Fortgens, there is almost always a frontier from where the light breaks out on the edges of the darkness. In other artworks the two symmetrical stripes seem to be the wings of a colossal bird.
Fortgens returned to the artistic inspirations of his youth, he starts to paint, and basically shows what inspires him. One might think that this would make his work more accessible only for the people who know him, but the individual becomes universal. The reason his work appeals to more and more people, proves that something is expressed in his artwork that connects us with the artist himself. His issues become our issues and that makes it universal. This is a strange paradox, because as Fortgens shows more of himself within his artwork, he releases the pressure of his ‘personality’ and ‘achievements’. Progress in his work now means ‘letting go’, but in the opposite of helpless passivity. Fortgens is a powerful man and the strength in his paintings lies in the fact that he makes sure all his forces are bound together. It is remarkable that his use of colour became more limited and now only consists of red, black, white and some other tones, while the expressive possibilities only increased in the years. One might think that such sober tones and monumentality are accompanied by loss of momentum. In contrast, in the artwork of Fortgens there is always a tension of forces present. Because of the struggle of the paint on the canvas, all the artworks form a contradiction, individually as well as in a whole.
The philosopher Nietzsche once said about the inner human conflict: “With a bow tightly stretched one can shoot at distant targets”. In this context, it means that we can expect a lot more creativity of Robbert Fortgens.
Text by French Leursen